"Making it out of the hood was just an idea" by Joann Brea

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Born and raised in Newark, NJ, Joann Brea was the first generation Dominican college graduate. Joann got accepted into The College of New Jersey on a full ride (the only college that gave her a full ride), and double majored in Criminology and Women’s and Gender Studies. This is where her passion for activism was really born, learning about iconic suffragette revolutionaries like Alice Paul and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Unfortunately, due to strenuous financial situations at home she had to start commuting from Newark to Trenton just to afford tuition, and in order to finance her travel expenses she had to become a full time security officer. After a year and a half of this she ended up dropping out of TCNJ mid-semester in the spring. That summer she decided to walk onto the Rutgers Newark Campus and tell someone her story to see if they could help her, and they did. Now she is finishing her Master’s Degree in Public Affairs and Administration with her heart set on law school as soon as she graduates in May 2019! 

I am currently finishing my Master’s Degree in Political Science at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. As a young Latina born and raised in an urban community like Newark known nationally as one of the most violent cities in the country, the idea of making it out of the “hood” used to be just that, an idea. But I am grateful that I had a great support system at home that kept me off the streets and in school. From my old school Dominican mother that had no shame in using her "chancleta" to remind me who’s boss, to my sister and brothers always having my back, and my dad of course who I watched struggle working three to four jobs at a time just to provide for us. I appreciate this opportunity to share my story because I know first hand how someone simply sharing
their story can completely change someone’s life. I know everyone has their struggles in life, but it is difficult to grow as a person when you wear that struggle as a cloak of shame. Growing up poor I was ashamed of my struggle. My family has been homeless, we’ve lived through days where all we had to eat was water, and for a long time I was ashamed of letting people know these things. It wasn’t until I got to college, The College of New Jersey, where I met a young girl named Angelika who invited me to a "Take Back the Night" event on campus raising awareness for Sexual Assault. Before the event she disclosed to me her own personal story and it was so moving to see someone unburden themselves by sharing something that was painful to them. At the event I had the privilege of listening to other students both men and women share their stories and release themselves of the shame of their pain. That was the moment I realized the power of sharing your story and relieving yourself of the burden of pain. It was at that moment that I finally found the courage to stand up and share my own story, something I hid deep inside myself for three excruciatingly long years. That day changed my life and gave me a new sense of purpose and it is where my passion for activism stems from. I want to fight for civil rights by changing legislation, and it is my hope to achieve this by obtaining this master’s degree. For those who read this, if you take anything from this please know that no matter what your story is don’t hold it inside. You owe it to yourself to share your story, you never know who you might inspire and empower.

One of my favorite books is titled "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander. The New Jim Crow is an incredibly powerful book that offers a transformative perspective on the way we as a society understand the American Criminal Justice System revealing a sense of urgency for the minority population to arm themselves with knowledge and facts if we are to truly fight the injustices imposed upon us. Michelle Alexander brilliantly asserts that politicians since the age of Reagan have structured a racial caste system masked as criminal justice “reform” in order to propagate its existence beyond the sphere of socially moral competence. The title of her book, “The New Jim Crow” offers an almost ironic tone to the concept of a new wave of racial oppression implemented once racist white men with power realized the inevitable demise of slavery and segregation. Alexander’s choice to compare our current incarceration practices as a form of racial oppression similar to the era of Jim Crow allows the reader to view the arguments she constructs throughout her book through a different lens, particularly a critical perspective. By taking a more analytical look at legislation after Jim Crow, it becomes clear that the problem of mass incarceration was very much intentional and the disproportionate amount of black and brown people that make up the large population of incarcerated individuals was in fact a meticulously calculated maneuver. This book is far from what critics would call a left leaning opinion-based book on the social inequality, instead it is a clear cut dissection of actual evidence pieced together to reveal what civil rights leaders have been discussing for decades. This piece provides the doorway to opening up conversations about more than just your superficial controversial debate about the newest CNN or YouTube video of yet another minority falling subject to racial injustice. This book propagates deeper conversations about the deeply rooted racial cast systems that built this country. I mean after 24 years of slavery and 89 years of segregation versus 64 years of freedom, don’t you think conversations about racial injustice should still be relevant?

Marisol de Jesus